Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Big Island, Hawaii

Akaka falls

End to end rainbow.

Even when I was just killing time before the main event of seeing lava, the Big Island offered up beauty. The eastern half of the island is cast in a rain shadow, receiving rain over half the days of the year. The benefit of rain . . . lush green forests and, of course, rainbows. It was amazing to see how quickly the rain would be blow through and leave a rainbow behind. I always thought I was about to get drenched, but it never happened. One of the neatest things I saw was rainbows that actually had a start and end. They didn't just disappear into the sky. I don't think I have ever seen that before.

First campsite with rock cliffs on left.

Punaluu Black Sand Beach

After my adventures in Volcanoes National Park, I decided to take a quick look around the rest of the island instead of staying put. I might have been better rested if I just stayed put, but that just doesn't seem to be my style. At least not when I still have energy. I definitely have trouble passing up a chance to do something new when I might not be able to get back there anytime soon. That set me on a track to see black sand, green sand, and whatever anyone else pointed out along the way.

Black sand on my hand

Green turtle on Punaluu, Black Sand Beach

My first great stop was at Punaluu, the black sand beach. It is a beach, just like any other, but it is black. There was a tour group at the beach when I arrived and they had all congregated in the middle, but I didn't know why. I was on the phone chatting with my friend Dana slowly heading towards where the tourists were. I was not completely paying attention. I was just hoping to get to the far side of the beach and then soak it up on the way back. Well, the problem with that is that you might almost step on a turtle!!! I didn't, but I was close. The sleeping turtles were why all the tourists had gathered around. The only time I saw them move was when a little boy pulled on one's fin. The parents said nothing. Grr.

Fishing with bags

Ka Lae

When I was on the Great Barrier Reef, a woman said I had to see Papakōlea Beach, Green Sand Beach. The first step to getting there was take the South Point road to the southern most point of the United States, Ka Lae. A lot of people think this is actually in Texas or one of the Florida Keys, but Hawaii has the same latitude as Mexico City, so the southern tip of Hawaii wins (Bonus points to anyone who can name the other 3 extremes relative to the Prime Meridian without googling. I bet most of you only get two right.). At Ka Lae, a number of people were using a fishing technique that I have never seen. They would essentially cast a garbage bag and hook up into the wind. To be a successful cast, they needed the wind to blow the bag far out to sea away from the cliffs. Apparently, that is where the big fish are, but it is impossible to cast it that far. Very, very cool

Green Sand in my hand.

Papakōlea Beach, a green sand beach

Anyway, getting to the green sand isn't obvious. I had to ask some locals, but before I could even get the question out they asked if I was there to cliff jump. I said no way, that stuff scares me. I watched them jump once, reaffirmed my desire to not fall that far, and then got directions. It took about an hour over roads that only jeeps were driving to get there. When I got there, the clouds had rolled in so the green color didn't really stick out. The green sand comes from the olivine rock that has been eroding for thousands of years. Pretty cool. Pretty quiet. I wish I had more time to spend there, but I had decided to try and hustle back to get talked into cliff jumping. I was kicking myself for turning down a chance to spend time with locals and take part in some of the nonsense they do. I figured, I travel to experience things, not just to see them and they had offered me a great experience.

My first cliff jump.

When I got back, the locals I had talked to were loading up to leave. I had said that I hoped to jump and one guy said I shouldn't because if I couldn't do enough pull ups to get on the rusted out ladder then I might get stuck. One of the guys, Tyler, said to forget that. He told me he'd do one more with me if I wanted, so off we went. They taught me a little technique. I gut checked about a hundred times, stopped thinking about it, and just followed Tyler in. I can't remember a time when I've been so happy to hit something after falling that far. It was such a relief to strike the water. No injuries. Lots of fun. Electricity flowing through the body. After that one, they tried to get me to jump in a hole that they also use. The drop isn't nearly as far, but there are rocks to each side of you and you have to swim out under a land bridge to the ladder. They said it is actually safer, but I was done for the day. I didn't want to have to figure out how to time my jump so the waves would pull me back out to the ladder. Eek! Next time!!


Road decorations on HI-19 north of Kailua-Kona

Donkey crossings, really?!?

After my jump, my adrenaline couldn't keep up and the rest of my trip was downhill. I slept the night on the coast again and then borrowed a local's kayak to go over to the one of the few pieces of foreign soil in the USA that isn't an embassy. The British government has been deeded the land where Captain James Cook's memorial is located in Kealakekua Bay. It marks the spot where he was killed after returning to the sheltered harbor for repairs. The snorkeling is supposed to be amazing in the bay. Unfortunately, I didn't find the great stuff. I think part of it is that I didn't know where to look and part of it was that I had just wrapped up three days on the Great Barrier Reef. I'd gone too big too soon and become a snob.

From there, I headed up the coast to Kailua-Kona, though everyone just calls the city Kona. I was really just passing through the Kona area to soak up some of their sunshine and to buy some coffee for a couple friends who are addicts, especially Betty who gets an extra shout out for surviving another bike accident, but this time a car hit her instead of her trying to take out an old lady. I think my favorite part of Kona was finding a gallery of Michael Wyland's because my mom raved about him for years. At first, I couldn't figure out why I knew the name, but it came to me after a brilliant meal at the Kona Brewing company. yum, yum. After some food, it was time to get moving. I had get back to Hilo to fly out by 8pm. I headed north and on the way passed more reclaimed lava fields. The highway cut right through the black rock. The best part was that people have taken white rocks and written messages up and down the highway on the black rock.

The original statue of King Kamehameha I that was lost at sea and restored.

Mauna Kea

Observatory equipment on Mauna Kea.

My last major stop was Mauna Kea. Its 13,803 foot summit is ideal for star gazing because it has over 300 clear nights a year and is above most air pollutants. I believe five countries have observatories near the summit. It was pretty incredible to see so much hardware so high up. It reminded me of Mt. Fuji which is so developed on the summit. The only thing I have seen elsewhere that comes close is Pikes Peak and to a much lesser extent Mt. Evans. Thankfully, we haven't built roads to the top of most of out taller mountains. Anyway, the drive and short hike to the summit was great. It was mostly clouded in but I managed to catch a few great sites before heading back down. Changing altitude so quickly definitely reminded me of my Mt. Fuji hike. Good memories. I think preferred the hike even though driving up was quite a bit easier for me, if not for the car. After hiking to the summit, it was time to get myself to the airport which is a special treat in Hawaii because they have waiting areas that are a lot homier than anything I have seen anywhere else in the world. I wish more airports would follow their model.

Big Island airport terminal.


  1. What do you mean by Prime-meridian realted extremes? Assuming you mean directional extremes of the U.S., my guess is that the easternmost point is in Hawai'i, Northernmost in Alaska, and Westernmost in Maine.

    Now I'm gonna look!

  2. Relative to the the Prime Meridian means if you were using a GPS, what would come up with the highest numbers for east, west, north, and lowest number for south.

    After looking again, what did you come up with?